Saved by a Nose

[Listen to Asha read this story]

(Told by Happy Winningham)

I had been living with AIDS for four years, and now I also had spinal meningitis. By the time my friends got me to the Emergency Room at the hospital, my condition was so serious even a trip in the elevator to Intensive Care would have taken too much time away from the immediate need to save my life. Doctors, nurses, admitting administrators, and a crowd of Ananda friends surrounded me as I was wheeled into a small room near the entrance.

The meningitis had caused my brain to swell, creating a pain that was indescribable. I was dehydrated, my blood pressure was non-existent, and I was going in and out of consciousness.

The administrator kept asking for my Blue Shield Insurance card, while nurses poked needles into me again and again in a desperate effort to find a vein that hadn’t collapsed so they could start an IV.

Not realizing the seriousness of the situation, a well-meaning friend had brought a bouquet of helium balloons—cheerful faces painted on a red and gold surface. In my delirium, they looked like astral bogeymen hovering on the ceiling, taunting me as I prepared to exit from this world.

Thinking that the end was near, a friend started leading me in a visualization down the tunnel of light into the astral world. Vital signs and hope were dropping. Every thought echoed good-bye.

At that moment, Swamiji walked in. He sat down on a chair by the bed, wedged in between the doctors and nurses who were frantically working on me. I was able to open my eyes enough to acknowledge his presence.

My extremities had already begun to die. My hands and feet had turned blue, my nose was bright purple, and the color was spreading across my cheeks. I was a frightening spectacle.

Swamiji looked carefully at my face, then he smiled and said, “Happy, you look like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed-Reindeer!”

At these words, the whole room froze, as if someone had pushed a Cosmic Pause Button. Then I smiled, and a surge of energy went through me that allowed me to laugh. Some of the nurses laughed, too, and everyone began to relax, easing into Swamiji’s aura of calm, detached acceptance.

At that point, everything changed. The nurse found a vein, the administrator found my insurance card, the IV started, my blood pressure began to rise, and hope returned.

Swamiji taught me many lessons that day. The most cherished among them is the simple thought: The way to overcome negativity and fear is to meet it head-on with joy.

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